Bangladesh scrambles to save disappearing indigenous languages

Bangladesh has been scrambling to save its endangered languages with new school books for indigenous communities, but the groups say too few of them are included in the program as authorities struggle to find appropriate teachers.

Most people in Bengali-majority Bangladesh, which has a population of more than 167 million, speak Bangla, the official language, as their first tongue. But there are also 39 ethnic Indigenous groups in the country, with an estimated population of 4 million, who have distinct cultures and languages.

According to a 2019 survey by the International Mother Language Institute, 14 of these Indigenous languages are about to disappear.

The government in 2017 launched textbooks for five of the biggest groups — Chakma, Marma, Tripura, Garo and Sadri — to teach students in the first three classes of primary school in the mother tongues. The initiative was welcomed by indigenous communities, but they fear it is too little to stop their languages from dying.

“The government has to date only launched textbooks for five ethnic groups. What will happen to the other languages?” rights activist Sanjeev Drang, who also serves as secretary-general of the Bangladesh Indigenous People’s Forum, told Arab News earlier this week.

“If immediate initiatives are not taken by the authorities, many of the other languages will also disappear from the country.”